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Ethnic Humor in Multiethnic America

Ethnic Humor in Multiethnic America

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 206
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  • Book Info
    Ethnic Humor in Multiethnic America
    Book Description:

    When wielded by the white majority, ethnic humor can be used to ridicule and demean marginalized groups. In the hands of ethnic minorities themselves, ethnic humor can work as a site of community building and resistance. In nearly all cases, however, ethnic humor can serve as a window through which to examine the complexities of American race relations. InEthnic Humor in Multiethnic America, David Gillota explores the ways in which contemporary comic works both reflect and participate in national conversations about race and ethnicity.Gillota investigates the manner in which various humorists respond to multiculturalism and the increasing diversity of the American population. Rather than looking at one or two ethnic groups at a time-as is common scholarly practice-the book focuses on the interplay between humorists from different ethnic communities. While some comic texts project a fantasy world in which diverse ethnic characters coexist in a rarely disputed harmony, others genuinely engage with the complexities and contradictions of multiethnic America.The first chapter focuses on African American comedy with a discussion of such humorists as Paul Mooney and Chris Rock, who tend to reinforce a black/white vision of American race relations. This approach is contrasted to the comedy of Dave Chappelle, who looks beyond black and white and uses his humor to place blackness within a much wider multiethnic context.Chapter 2 concentrates primarily on the Jewish humorists Sarah Silverman, Larry David, and Sacha Baron Cohen-three artists who use their personas to explore the peculiar position of contemporary Jews who exist in a middle space between white and other.In chapter 3, Gillota discusses different humorous constructions of whiteness, from a detailed analysis ofSouth Parkto "Blue Collar Comedy" and the blogStuff White People Like.Chapter 4 is focused on the manner in which animated children's film and the network situation comedy often project simplified and harmonious visions of diversity. In contrast, chapter 5 considers how many recent works, such asHarold and Kumar Go to White Castleand the Showtime seriesWeeds, engage with diversity in more complex and productive ways.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6150-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Boundaries of American Ethnic Humor
    (pp. 1-19)

    IN ONE OF his many oft-quoted routines, Lenny Bruce provides some unexpected distinctions between Jewish andgoyishcultures:¹

    Now I neologize Jewish andgoyish. Dig: I’m Jewish. Count Basie’s Jewish. Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor’sgoyish. B’nai Brith isgoyish; Hadassah, Jewish. Marine Corps—heavy goyim, dangerous. Kool-Aid isgoyish. All Drake’s cakes aregoyish. Pumpernickel is Jewish, and, as you know, white bread is verygoyish. Instant potatoes—goyish. Black cherry soda’s very Jewish. Macaroons are very Jewish—very Jewish cake. Fruit salad is Jewish. Lime Jello isgoyish. Lime soda is verygoyish. Trailer parks are so...

  5. 1 “JUST US”: African American Humor in Multiethnic America
    (pp. 20-47)

    ON HIS 1975 GRAMMY-WINNING comedy album, …Is It Something I Said?, Richard Pryor comments on the disproportionate number of African Americans in prison: “You go down there looking for justice,” Pryor quips, “and that’s what you find: just us.”¹ The joke itself is a fairly simple pun addressing racial inequality in the American justice system, but it also speaks to Pryor’s position (and by extension, the position of African American humor in general) in American culture. The “us” of Pryor’s joke of course refers to African Americans. By this point in his career, however, Pryor was already a crossover...

  6. 2 THE NEW JEWISH BLACKFACE: Ethnic Anxiety in Contemporary Jewish Humor
    (pp. 48-75)

    IN LATE AUGUST 2005, as fans ofChappelle’s Showwere still scratching their heads over Chappelle’s puzzling departure from his lucrative series, Sarah Silverman starred in a sketch onJimmy Kimmel Live!titled “Chappelle’s Show:Starring Sarah Silverman.” The skit begins with an announcer proclaiming that “Chappelle’s Showis back, and funnier than ever, with new host Sarah Silverman.” Then we see a brief series of clips showing Silverman, a Jewish white female, performing a collection of Chappelle’s most popular recurring characters, including Rick James, rapper Lil John, and the inner-city crack addict Tyrone Biggums. The humor here is driven...

  7. 3 “CRACKER, PLEASE!”: Toward a White Ethnic Humor
    (pp. 76-103)

    MIDWAY THROUGH HIS 2008 comedy special,Chewed Up, stand-up comic Louis C.K. provides a surprisingly frank discussion about the benefits of being white:

    Oh God, I love being white. I really do. Seriously, if you’re not white, you’re missing out ’cause this shit is thoroughly good. Let me be clear by the way; I’m not saying that white people are better. I’m saying that being white is clearly better. Who could even argue? … Here’s how great it is to be white. I could get in a time machine and go to any time, and it would be fucking awesome...

  8. 4 IMAGINING DIVERSITY: Corporate Multiculturalism in the Children’s Film and the Situation Comedy
    (pp. 104-130)

    IN THESOUTH PARKepisode “The Death Camp of Tolerance,” discussed at length in the previous chapter, one of South Park’s children, in an attempt to appease the Nazi-like enforcer of tolerance, finger paints a picture of “people of all creeds and colors holding hands underneath a rainbow.” The moment—like the town flag in the earlier episode “Chef Goes Nanners”—satirizes the most simplistic notions of multiculturalism, which are often enforced in public education or in mainstream mass entertainment. This sort of facile, easily digestible multiculturalism at which Parker and Stone direct their humor reached its apex in the...

  9. 5 COMEDY WITHOUT BORDERS? Toward a Multiethnic Humor
    (pp. 131-152)

    AS THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER demonstrates, many works of contemporary popular culture like to imagine a diverse yet fundamentally color-blind America. This vision upholds a facile understanding of racial harmony by suggesting that diverse ethnic backgrounds create only surface differences that individuals should look past. These “corporate multiculturalist” works imply that in order to create this harmony we only have to educate the handful of real racists and be nice to each other. Such a vision may be commendable on a certain level, yet it tends to gloss over systemic inequality and ignore the histories of oppression that have shaped the...

  10. CONCLUSION: Emerging Ethnic Humor in Multiethnic America
    (pp. 153-170)

    IN EARLY 2012, as I finalized the revisions for this book, I began following a story about the dismantling of the ethnic studies program, and more specifically the Mexican American studies program, in the Tucson, Arizona, public school district. In 2012, a new state law went into effect that prohibits teaching material that the school board considers antiwhite or that, as summarized byNew York Timeswriter Michael Winerip, “advocate[s] ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.”¹ Despite studies that suggest the program actually increased Latino student retention and college admission rates, school administrators effectively banned several Mexican American...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 171-184)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 185-194)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-196)